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Banshees of Inisherin
Photograph: 20th Century StudiosJenny the donkey and Colin Farrell in ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’

The 13 best Irish movies for St. Patrick’s Day

Go green with the very best Irish movies that capture the glory and grit of the Emerald Isle and its people

Joshua Rothkopf
Matthew Singer
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf
Contributor
Matthew Singer
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It took a while for Irish movies to break out internationally – in fact, peruse this list of the best Irish films and you’ll notice most of them are from the ’90s and early 2000s. It’s still rare for a movie from the Emerald Isle to reach a global audience. But those that do tend to stick with you. Think about the humble romantic musical Once, or Daniel Day-Lewis’s star-making turn in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot, or Martin McDonagh’s Oscar-nominated existential character study The Banshees of Inisherin. Regardless of the genre, the best Irish movies exude a particular, idiosyncratic soul reflective of the country’s history, culture and, especially, its people. You don’t have to save these classics for St Patrick’s Day – but if you’re happening to be on the market for a suggestion to mark the holiday, look no further than these 13 cracking selections.

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Best Irish movies for St. Patrick's Day

Brooklyn (2015)
  • Film
  • Drama

Is it too soon to include so recent a movie? Not when it’s this extraordinary. A wrenchingly beautiful Irish immigrant drama, it re-creates the titular 1950s-era borough in all its melting-pot diversity (and Dodgers-loving Italian boyfriends), while also giving the 21-year-old Saoirse Ronan the kind of role—romantically conflicted, blooming, courageously open—that transforms young stars into icons.

Once (2007)
  • Film
  • Comedy

A street musician (Glen Hansard) and a Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová) fall in love on the streets of Dublin in this popular musical romance, which inspired the Broadway musical. There’s no denying the power of these sincerely wrought acoustic tunes, among which “Falling Slowly” won the Oscar for Best Original Song.

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The Quiet Man (1952)
  • Film
  • Comedy
Recognizing John Wayne’s greatness will always be hard for those who can’t wrap their heads around his big-lug persona and palpable conservatism. To them, we offer this sensitive Ireland-set drama, in which Wayne plays a washed-up boxer, as Exhibit A. Maureen O’Hara is the firebrand who sets him on the straight and narrow.
The Commitments (1991)
  • Film
  • Drama
A stirring piece of soul-music camaraderie, Alan Parker’s comedy about the formation of a band still has the power to inspire. It speaks to Ireland directly, best in the words of its wanna-be combo leader: “Do you not get it, lads? The Irish are the blacks of Europe. And Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland. And the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin. So say it once, say it loud: I'm black and I'm proud.”
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The Secret of Kells (2009)
  • Film
  • Family and kids

A background in Celtic folklore isn’t necessary to appreciate this wondrous animated tale from Kilkenny’s Cartoon Saloon, though it probably wouldn’t hurt. Even if you know nothing about the Book of Kells, the pagan god Crom Cruach and the art of Irish visual poetry, the film’s breathtaking animation and mesmeric tone will draw viewers of any age into its gorgeous spell.

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Comedy
  • Recommended

One of the most acclaimed films of 2022, Martin McDonagh’s darkly comedic character study reunites the core cast from his 2008 breakthrough, In Bruges, taking them from an antique Belgian tourist town to an isolated island off the Irish coast. Against the backdrop of the 1923 Irish Civil War, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Ferrell play longtime friends whose bond comes to an abrupt end amidst the former’s existential crisis. For McDonagh, it’s a relatively small and quiet film but an intense one too, underscored by deeply felt performances from the two leads. It also doubles as an undercover tourist brochure for the Irish isles, gorgeously shot by cinematographer Ben Davis.

 

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Kisses (2008)
  • Film
  • Drama

No one would claim that director Lance Daly delivers an Emerald Isle version of The Spirit of the Beehive, though this scrappy film about two Irish kids who ditch their working-class ’hood and head into Dublin does have a knack for capturing the elation and confusion of late childhood in all its ragged glory.

In the Name of the Father (1993)
  • Film
In this powerful drama, Jim Sheridan explores the father-son relationship between Gerry and Giuseppe Conlon (Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite), who were wrongly convicted of a 1975 IRA bombing. Director Sheridan and Day-Lewis already mined Oscar gold with their 1989 collaboration My Left Foot, but this one’s better.
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Hunger (2008)
  • Film
British artist and director Steve McQueen (he’d go on to make 12 Years a Slave) dramatizes six brutal weeks at the end of IRA faster Bobby Sands’s life. The politics are a touch messianic, but the physical commitment of actor Michael Fassbender is astounding—this film marks his arrival to greatness.
Sing Street (2016)
  • Film
  • Drama

Whether from Dublin, Middle America or the Amazonian rainforest, teenagers have always started bands for precisely two reasons: to get laid and/or to get the hell out of their hometown. Once director John Carney encapsulates both of those impulses in this winning ‘80s-set pop musical about a private school misfit who puts together a group only after recruiting his crush to star in a music video. While it indulges in plenty of coming-of-age clichés, the energy stays high, the tunes are killer, and it ends up expressing a broad truth – that loving Ireland, like any place else, sometimes means escaping it.

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Calvary (2014)
  • Film
  • Drama

In this wickedly funny Tarantino-esque black comedy, the mighty Brendan Gleeson (weathered and effortlessly humane) plays Father James, targeted for murder in the confession box by an angry mystery man. James is given seven days to put his affairs in order—and hopefully mend some bridges in his coastal Irish community.

  • Film
  • Drama

Yes, it’s the same bloody Sunday about which U2 wonders how long they’ll have to sing: the events of Jan 30, 1972, when English soldiers killed 13 unarmed Irish protesters. Paul Greengrass’s impeccable historical re-creation, suffused with heartache, set the template for his future work on United 93.

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The Crying Game (1992)
  • Film
  • Thrillers
Overshadowed by its own secret (and Miramax’s aggro marketing campaign of same), Neil Jordan’s sexually charged political thriller is actually quite lovely, redolent of the director’s generous humanism, and featuring excellent work by Forest Whitaker as a British soldier with a secret life captured by the IRA.
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